comsex.jpg
As you've likely realized by now, the Internet's a two-way deal. Enlightenment flows both ways, as does garbage. The latest drawback, recently unveiled by the

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Anita Ramasastry, UW Prof, Lays Down the Law on 'Sextortion' by Laptop

comsex.jpg
As you've likely realized by now, the Internet's a two-way deal. Enlightenment flows both ways, as does garbage. The latest drawback, recently unveiled by the FBI, is electronic blackmail called "sextortion."

Typical was the recently busted 31-year-old California hacker who used a malicious cybercode to infect and control computers of unsuspecting victims. He would then search for and download explicit pictures and use the images to extort more pictures and videos. It's one more thing to worry about, says University of Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry, when you make the assumption that a personal computer is actually personal.

Once, a would-be blackmailer or extortionist would have to physically trail and spy on his or her victim, risking being spotted. Now, however, all that is necessary is a computer, and an online identity can hide the perpetrator's true identity.

Sextortion is a new but rising problem, she writes today in her Findlaw column, and the easiest targets are of course teenagers, by the dozens. "In one case," says Ramasastry, "Jonathan Vance, a 24-year old sextortionist, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for sending threatening emails on social-networking sites to extort nude pictures from more than 50 young women in Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Missouri."

Another hacker, according to the FBI, downloaded a pornographic picture from one victim's computer, then sent it to her and demanded she send back a sexually explicit video of herself, or he'd inform her parents. In the California case, that hacker infected a computer and then used a popular social networking site and a technique called "spear phishing" to spread his virus.

Ramasastry offers some obvious advice - for starters, don't keep nude photos of yourself in your computer, duh. And the FBI points out that the majority of computers involved in sextortion cases were laptops: Many of the victims chatted on social networks so much that they hardly ever turned off their machines.

And one more thing, says the agency: Cover your webcam when not using it. Thanks to the darkside of modern technology, Internet peepers, having infected your PC, can now watch you in bed at night.

Maybe that Issaquah man some years back had the best answer. Bang. No more cyber or PC issues for him. He shot his computer. Four times. It had gotten him so riled that, afterward, he had to be coaxed out of his house by police. "We don't know if it wouldn't boot up or what," a sergeant said. The world applauded.

 
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